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Radical Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal dead

Posted on Jan 15 2014 | IANS

Mumbai, Jan 15 : Radical Dalit poet Namdeo Laxman Dhasal, who moved generations through provocative prose and poetry on the plight of the deprived sections of society, died after a long battle with cancer here early Wednesday.

He was 64 and is survived by his wife, Malika Sheikh, and a son. The end came in Bombay Hospital where he was undergoing treatment.

According to an aide, his body will be kept at Ambedkar College, Wadala till Thursday before the funeral in Dadar in the afternoon.

Writer, poet and a one-time proponent of a radical approach to secure the rights of the deprived sections, Dhasal had founded the Dalit Panthers Party at the age of 23.

Born into a Mahar family Feb 15, 1949 in a tiny hamlet near Pune, Dhasal spent his early childhood in abject poverty in the Golpitha red light area of south Mumbai where his father worked in a butcher's shop - an aspect that figured prominently in his literary works later in life.

Educating himself with great difficulty, he founded the Dalit Panther movement with some friends in 1972, inspired by the Black Panther Party founded in the US to spearhead the Black Power movement.

In 1973, he published his first collection of poems - "Golpitha" followed by "Moorkh Mhataryane", "Tujhu Iyatta Kanchi", "Khel", "Priyadarshini" (based on former prime minister Indira Gandhi), novels including "Ambedkari Chalwal" and "Andhale Shatak", columns in newspapers and other literature.

Influenced greatly by the works of Baburao Bagul - a radical Dalit thinker inspired by B.R. Ambedkar - Dhasal, through his poems, attempted to portray the lives of those deprived of rights.

Breaking away from normal poetic styles and conventions, Dhasal liberally used words and expressions typical to Dalits. In "Golpitha", he made use of the crude language normal in a red light area, shocking many readers.

Arundhati Subrahmaniam once described his poetry thus: "Dhasal is a quintessentially Mumbai poet. Raw, raging, associative, almost carnal in its tactility, his poetry emerges from the underbelly of the city - its menacing, unplumbed netherworld. This is the world of pimps and smugglers, of crooks and petty politicians, of opium dens, brothels and beleaguered urban tenements."

The major awards he was conferred include the Maharashtra State Award for Literature, the Soviet Land Nehru Award, the Padma Shri (1999) and the Sahitya Akademy Golden Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Home Minister R.R. Patil, Shiv Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe and Republican Party of India president Ramdas Athavale along with many others paid rich tributes to Dhasal.

Sankaranarayanan, in a message, said: "Dhasal was the voice of the poor and the oppressed. In his demise, Maharashtra has lost a brave activist and a writer who felt genuinely for the poor and the oppressed."

Chavan said Dhasal was highly influenced by Ambedkar and "his writings shimmered with a genuine empathy for the downtrodden while his words roared in flames of anger against the atrocities and the system".

Expressing grief, Pawar said Dhasal's works would inspire generations to keep on fighting against the "evils in society".

Patil said: "Dhasal, the poet was a rebel and his poems and verse reflect this rebellious streak. His poems and works while simmering with anger also show deep love for humanity."

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